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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Casa Valentina
New Conservatory Theatre Center
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of The Last Tiger in Haiti, The Quality of Life and Titanic and Richard's review of Shocktoberfest 17: Pyramid of Freaks

Paul Rodrigues, Max Hersey, and Jennifer McGeorge
Photo by Lois Tema
Celebrating its 35th anniversary, New Conservatory Theatre Center opens its 2016-17 season with Harvey Fierstein's Casa Valentina with a superb cast of seven actors and two actresses. It's summer 1962 in the Catskills where people escape the heat of New York City in an era when homosexually and transvestites are not readily accepted.

Casa Valentina is an unusual but extraordinarily written play about transvestites in the Catskills. These guys aren't drag queens or transsexuals but married heterosexuals who occupying respectable positions in mainstream society. There is a camaraderie among these cross-dressers but an underlying sense of fear and suspicion, too. They are afraid of being judged as homosexuals. Most live hidden lives which exclude their wives and children.

This is a drama also about the marriage between George (Paul Rodriques) and Rita (Jennifer McGeorge), which is unconventional to say the least. She knows about George dressing in women's clothing and heading a club under the name of Valentina. The members of the secret club include Albert (Jeffrey Hoffman), a decorated war hero with a stout build who goes by the name of Bessie; Michael (Tim Huls), or Gloria, the practical member of the group; Theodore (Michael Moerman), who is the older courteous member who goes by Terry; and The Judge, the forceful judge who goes by the name of Amy in drag. Into the mix is newcomer Jonathan (Max Hersey) who just got married. He's making his first appearance as Miranda. Also joining the drama is Isadore/Charlotte (Matt Weimer), a cross dresser who flew in from the West Coast in an attempt to get the club to go public. Rounding out the cast is Genevieve Perdue as the daughter of the judge.

Casa Valentina starts out slow, but by the third scene the drama takes off as the Harvey Fierstein gets to the meat of the play. The audience learns that there is a tangible difference between drag and transvestism. The differences are discussed among the members of the group. These men camp but not in the true homosexual sense of the word. They want to be accepted as truly what they are. The writing is superb, as is the entire cast.

Paul Rodriques is wonderful as George/Valentina. He is stunning as Valentina with his hourglass figure. He reminds me of Yvonne DeCarlo. Jennifer McGeorge gives an outstanding performance as George's wife Rita. She is a mass of carnal unconventionality, wherein she can caress her husband or lash out at him. They are perfect together.

Matt Weimer gives an outstanding performance as Isadore/Charlotte. Jeffrey Hoffman as Albert/Bessie is humorlessly campy in role; his irresistible quirky humor is entertaining. Max Right as the virgin cross-dresser is tremendous, especially when he enters the room with the cross dressers for the first time. Genevieve Perdue as Eleanor, the daughter of The Judge, has just one scene at the end of the play and she is excellent in her role. Tim Huls as Michael/Gloria and Tom Reilly as The Judge/Amy give perfect performances.

Keri Fitch's costumes play an important role in this production and they are spot on. Kuo-Hao Lo's set design is amazing. Director Becca Wolff brings out the needs of the characters, accentuating a normalcy and humanness.

Casa Valentina plays through November 6, 2016, at the Decker Theatre, New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness just off Market Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at Coming up next is Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet running December 11 through December 18.

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